The .308 Winchester is sick…sick and tired of being compared to younger, hotter 6.5mm cartridges. First, it was the 6.5 Creedmoor. Now, the 6.5 Precision Rifle Cartridge (PRC) is threatening to steal Winchester’s role, and camo-clad casting directors around the world are considering making the switch.
The PRC was introduced by Hornady in 2017 and uses long, heavy-for-caliber bullets and fast-twist rifles to take full advantage of moderate powder charges. It promises magnum-like performance without the buck and kick of most magnum cartridges, and it’s without question an excellent long-range hunting option.
The Winchester might have a 71-year track record of success, but as most Hollywood actors eventually learn, older isn’t always better.
First, you should know that the PRC isn’t just a repackaged 6.5 Creedmoor. While the Creedmoor was developed from a necked-down .30 Thompson Center, the PRC uses the .300 Ruger Compact Magnum as its parent case. This gives the PRC a 28% greater case capacity and a resulting 260 feet-per-second (fps) edge over its predecessor.
But can it compete with the legendary Winchester?
To compare apples to apples(ish), these Federal Fusion PRC loads launch a 140-grain projectile 2,925fps at the muzzle, while these 150-grain Federal Fusion .308 Win. loads fire a 150-grain bullet 2,820fps.
That means the PRC produces 11 additional foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy at the muzzle and 84 ft.-lbs. at 500 yards. It’s an advantage, but only a slight one.
The PRC offers a similar energy output as the .308, but its advantages start to become more obvious when it comes to trajectory. At 300 yards with a 100-yard zero, the Winchester drops 13.4 inches while the PRC drops 12. At 500 yards with a 200-yard zero, the PRC drops 42 inches while the .308 drops 47, a 12% increase.
PRC aficionados might also point out that the Federal Fusion projectile doesn’t allow the PRC to play to its strengths. The 6.5 can be loaded with long, high-BC (ballistic coefficient) bullets that maintain a flat trajectory and buck the wind. These 130-grain Terminal Ascent PRC bullets, for instance, offer a 300+ fps advantage at 500 yards and drop 10 fewer inches (37 inches) when compared to the .308 Fusion load.
Winchester fans might counter that while the older cartridge has a tough time competing with the PRC at longer ranges, it can be loaded with heavy bullets that hit hard at short distances. Ammo companies load .308 Win. with bullets that exceed 200 grains, and Federal offers 180-grain options that deliver 2,743 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. The Winchester load has taken North America’s largest game animals, and much of that is due to the size and weight of bullets available.
Still, it is possible to find PRC options with bullets heavier than 150 grains, and Federal’s 140-grain Fusion hits with 2,659 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy (only 84 ft.-lbs. less than the Winchester). I would argue that this energy difference isn’t as important as the trajectory difference. A well-placed shot with either cartridge will take down any big game animal, but the .308 is harder to shoot accurately at extended ranges. That’s why this round goes to the 6.5 PRC.
Winner: 6.5 PRC
Good cartridge design isn’t just about speed and power. If that were the case, insanely overbore cartridges like the .22-.284 would be much more popular. Good cartridges are also balanced and efficient, and that’s exactly what you’re getting with both of these options.
By most accounts, the .308 Win. and the 6.5 PRC produce about 17 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy. Since most hunters report discomfort around the 20 ft.-lb. mark, that’s a great place to be. One might argue that the PRC’s manageable recoil is a more impressive feat given its ballistic advantage, but it’s safe to say that neither cartridge is noticeably more or less pleasant to shoot than the other.
When it comes to ammo cost and rifle availability, however, the Winchester holds a significant edge. Midway USA offers a whopping 161 options for .308 Win.,the cheapest of which is only $0.50 per round. By contrast, they only offer 22 options for the 6.5 PRC, the cheapest of which is $1.72 per round. That cost disparity shrinks with high-quality hunting ammunition, but the PRC is still more expensive and more scarce. Your local sporting goods store will almost certainly stock .308 Win; PRC will be hit or miss.
The same story is true for rifle availability. Every major gun company chambers a rifle in .308 Win., but the PRC’s relative youth means that there are far fewer options available. What’s more, you can find the Winchester readily chambered in semi-auto, pump, and even lever action rifles. For the PRC, a bolt gun will be your only cost-effective option.
Winner: .308 Winchester
By “versatility,” I mean the range of animals that can be taken with either cartridge. Usually, bullet weights offer a reliable yardstick for measuring that range, and the .308 Win. certainly offers a wider selection of bullets. Ammo makers have developed an array of .308 options, including light, 110-grain loads for varmints, 165-grain options for medium game like whitetail, and heavy, 180-grain pills for big game like elk and moose.
The PRC offers a much smaller range of bullet weights, usually between 120 and 140 grains. However, I would argue that the PRC can still take the same kinds of animals as the .308 Win., and it can do it from both short and long ranges.
A fast-expanding, 120-grain bullet is devastating on varmints, and a bonded 140-grain projectile is more than enough to drop an elk or a moose. What’s more, as discussed in the “Ballistics” category, the PRC shoots flatter and hits harder at long range, even when using a lighter bullet than the .308 Win. Add to that the PRC’s reputation for excellent accuracy, and I think you can make the case that the 6.5 is just as versatile as the older Winchester.
The right cartridge for you comes down to two factors: cost and range. If you’re on a budget and you don’t care to take shots at animals beyond 300 or 400 yards, the Winchester is for you. If you plan on targeting pronghorn or elk in open country and you don’t mind spending a little extra cheddar, the 6.5 PRC is probably the better option.
For me, the PRC’s superior design earns it the nod. It offers superior ballistics while maintaining manageable recoil, which makes it one of the best big-game cartridges on the market.
Overall Winner: 6.5 PRC